China's producer prices in December rose at their slowest pace in more than two years, a worrying sign of deflationary risks that could see Beijing roll out more policy support to help stabilize the economy.
Consumer inflation for the month also eased from a year earlier due to lower non-food prices, data from the National Statistics Bureau showed yesterday, short of market forecasts and well below Beijing's target.
The producer price index, a measure of the prices businesses receive for their goods and services, rose 0.9 percent in December from a year earlier - below the lowest forecast in a Reuters poll of 35 economists who had a median estimate of 1.6 percent. The index rose 2.7 percent in November.
The PPI fell a steeper 1 percent from November, its biggest fall since January 2015. November's index weakened 0.2 percent from the previous month.
The consumer price index rose 1.9 percent in December from a year earlier, down from 2.2 percent in November and below expectations of a 2.1 percent gain. The government's full-year target for consumer price inflation is around 3 percent.
On a month-on-month basis, the CPI was unchanged.
Economists now see the threat of deflation in the manufacturing nation after producer price inflation slowed sharply in December.
Nomura said "the nightmare of PPI deflation is imminent," China International Capital (3908) said "deflation pressures are on the rise," while Haitong Securities (6837) projected the turning point could come as early as this month.
"China's economic downturn and commodity price falls have led to and will lead to downturns in global economic growth and commodity prices," said Nomura's chief China economist Lu Ting, who sees a 0.1 percent drop in Chinese producer prices this year.
Meanwhile, the People's Bank of China will start lending money to banks under a new policy instrument in late January, governor Yi Gang said, promising that China will avoid both massive stimulus and a fast credit contraction.
The targeted Medium Term Lending Facility, which lends cash for up to three years, was announced in December and will encourage banks to lend to small and private companies which are facing credit shortages due to a government debt crackdown.
The yuan is at a five-month high, and technical indicators suggest more gains are coming.
Buying momentum is the strongest in almost a year and bearish bets have fallen to 12-month lows in the options market. The onshore yuan climbed 0.45 percent to 6.7852 per dollar, while the offshore rate rose 0.37 percent as of last night.